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The Springwater District concepts include expanded support for community gardens, which offer an economic way for those who don’t have yards to grow their own fresh produce.

Community gardens grow healthy, usually organic food that is chock full of vitamins and is whole, raw food – not processed with chemicals and preservatives.

Not only is it a healthier way to eat, it allows those with low incomes to spend grocery money on other necessities. This stretches dollars while providing nutritious food for families who otherwise might not be able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables.

Here’s how it works: Unused public spaces, such as schools, churches, even land owned by cities and counties, is offered up as garden plots that people rent on a yearly basis through organized garden coordinators or organizations.

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Gardeners pay a nominal fee, usually about $25 per plot per year, plus the cost of water and seeds (although some gardeners learn to harvest their own seeds and trade them with other gardener pals). Then they get to plant their crop, water, weed and harvest.

It is a hands-on way for children, and in some cases adults, to learn where food comes from and how it grows, all while planting the seeds of community.  Gardeners they range from families to seniors, single adults to teens who tend plots in community gardens report meeting neighbors and members of their community who share an interest and who also often share their bounty.  Peppers are traded for cucumbers, meals are shared, and the bonds of community are sewn, all with just a few low-cost investments. Some gardeners even market their extra produce.

The key word in the phrase community garden is community. East Multnomah County’s wide selection of community gardens and farms is made possible with the cooperation of churches, schools, non-profit associations, government agencies and regular people just like you.

People give of their time, money, tools and supplies like seeds and starts. They even give land.

 Photo courtesy of Greg Hartung

Photo courtesy of Greg Hartung

Without such support, community gardens couldn’t exist and they certainly couldn’t thrive or expand to meet growing demand. More help is needed.

Adam Kohl, executive director of Outgrowing Hunger, said in order to expand the gardens and accommodate more families additional land is needed.

It should be relatively flat, at least 10,000 square feet and within walking distance to “low-income population centers” as well as partner agencies with existing relationships to disadvantaged communities, such as schools, SUN programs, healthcare clinics, food pantries and refugee settlement agencies.

Construction costs vary but medium sized projects, or those of about 10,000 square feet, cost about $1 per square foot or as low as 30 cents per square foot on a 2-acre or larger project.  “Keep in mind this is for bare-essentials only, community-style gardens,” Kohl said, adding that those offered through city park departments may have more amenities.

 Photo courtesy of Greg Hartung

Photo courtesy of Greg Hartung

Yearly management costs runs about 10 cents per square foot including water, supplies, and maintenance, plus about $35 per plot for registration, outreach, and problem solving. Plot fees should cover this entirely, but $25 per plot is only possible if it is heavily subsidized.

Winter management is minimal, consisting primarily of shutting off the water and keep an occasional eye out for campers.

Political support also is needed.

“Policy makers should know the incredible impact that whole-family gardening can have on social cohesion, civic engagement, making healthy lifestyle choices, depression, mental and emotional wellness, community leadership, and food security,” Kohl said. “Particularly for immigrant and refugee populations, which are substantial in East Multnomah County, gardens are a low-cost investment that will pay dividends in every corner of the community and every hall of government.”

Kohl also said a program is needed to promote and coordinate family-scale or even market-scale gardening (800-square-foot to 2000-square-foot plots) as a universally permitted intermediate use of publicly owned lands and rights-of-way.  He also would like to see substantial garden spaces included in master planning for zoning and development countywide.

Springwater District volunteers are particularly inspired by a unique and innovative partnership between the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the University Muslim Medical Association called

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The Fremont Wellness Center and Community Garden in South Los Angeles.

It is an example of different organizations joining forces to maximize all that community gardens have to offer.

In South Los Angeles, it began when a low performing high school qualified for an on-site clinic. Of the 2,600 students at John C. Fremont High School, 80 percent were low-income. One third dropped out before graduating. Students lacked health insurance, making the host of chronic medical problems many students faced even more difficult to treat.

The on-site clinic was intended to provide comprehensive medical, dental, and mental health services for students, as well as the community.

But it provided so much more.

Plans for the wellness center called for a vegetable and medicinal garden, orchard, green house, neighborhood park, and a 2,500-square foot health clinic. The green house, gardens, and orchard allow residents to grow healthy food, learn about traditional herbal remedies for healing, and provide a place to relax, all while cultivating a sense of pride and ownership.

The school also decided to center some of its academic offerings around the center, developing curriculum on nutrition, urban gardening and agriculture. It also created a 12-week youth education initiative to teach students gardening basics and provide exposure to careers in agricultural and environmental sciences with field trips and guest speakers.

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Community gardens provide youth valuable lessons on where food comes from, practical math and business skills, and issues surrounding environmental sustainability, all while building a sense of community, belonging, and even being a crime deterrent, according to the group Gardeners in Community Development.

But they provide everyone healthy food, with benefits that are especially beneficial for children. For example, eating locally produced food lowers asthma rates because children are able to consume manageable amounts of local pollen and develop more immunities.

Consuming more fresh local produce also is one of the best ways to address childhood lead poisoning.

 Locally, community gardens in East Multnomah County are offered through the following organizations:

Grow Portland has five community gardens including two in East Multnomah County: one at at a church and a community farm in partnership with Outgrowing Hunger and on Southeast 162nd Avenue.

City of Gresham has four community gardens, including the newly developed plots at Nadaka Nature Park and Community Garden.

Zenger Farms 

Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon

• Outgrowing Hunger oversees the four community gardens on City of Gresham property, as well as the Central City Garden in Gresham situated on surplus Multnomah County property. It also oversees two East Portland Community Gardens at Alder Elementary School and at Lynwood Friends Church on Southeast 162nd Avenue.